When a friend or family member experiences the crushing loss of a miscarriage, it’s natural to want to comfort them; it’s also natural to not know what to say. That said, the last thing you want in this situation is to end up with your foot in your mouth, having inadvertently said something to cause your grieving loved one more hurt. For this reason, we reached out to clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook to learn what not to say to someone who had a miscarriage. Her advice? Stick to objective words (“comfort is neutral,” she says) and don’t be afraid to check in for fear that asking them how they’re doing will push them over the edge, because it won’t. Finally, avoid the following phrases at all costs.
What Not to Say to Someone Who Had a Miscarriage, According to a Psychologist
1. “You still have your other kids.”
Rule number one: Don’t dismiss, minimize or invalidate the loss. Per Cook, this statement “devalues the life that was currently being created and the potential bond that had already formed between mother and baby.” In other words, just because someone already has a child, it absolutely doesn’t mean that the loss of a miscarriage is any less heartbreaking.
2. “Will you be trying again soon?”
Slow your roll. For starters, that’s a very personal question and really none of your business. Plus, Cook points out that this question insinuates that getting pregnant is easy, which for many it’s not. “There are many layers involved in the process of making a baby, whether it's via IVF or the old fashioned way,” she notes. And even if you do happen to know how easy (or not) it was for her to get pregnant, now is definitely not the time to ask if she is ready to try again.
3. “Was it something you ate or did that caused it?”
This one should be a no-brainer but never, ever suggest that a grieving person is to blame for their loss. “It’s pretty obvious this phrase suggests that the mother somehow caused the baby to miscarry. It’s just flat out rude and disrespectful,” says Cook.
4. “Do you think you’ll stop trying now?”
Again, file this one under ‘none of your business.’ Cook also says that, in general, it’s wise to chill out with all the questions at this time, particularly ones like this that might be very difficult or complicated to answer. Bottom line: “This person is suffering…give them a hug, not a punch in the gut.”
5. “It must have been God’s will.”
Although the intention might be to provide comfort, the statement completely misses the mark—namely because it implies that everything is already preordained to happen and therefore could leave the mother feeling more powerless than she does already. Also, Cook tells us that the religious nature of this one can be problematic since “it alludes to the idea that for some reason God has felt it necessary to punish this grieving mother.” It also assumes that the mother believes in God—and if she doesn’t, you might as well have just told her that her loss was Bugs Bunny’s will.
6. “You’ll always have a guardian angel.”
It’s really best to leave religion out of it, especially if you don’t know the person’s beliefs. Per Cook, “if [the parent] doesn’t believe in God, this statement is essentially saying their baby is watching over someone else who does believe in God…and that sucks.” It’s also worth noting that, regardless of personal faith, the parent(s) were hoping for a human, not an angel, so they’re unlikely to find much solace in this sentiment.
7. “I totally understand what you’re feeling.”
We’re all for empathy, but at the end of the day—and regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced a miscarriage yourself—you have no idea what another person is feeling or the backstory to their pregnancy, so you really shouldn’t suggest that you do.
8. “At least you never met the baby so it will be easier to get over.”
Believe it or not, Cook tells us that this degree of insensitivity is not unheard of. In fact, it happens fairly often, usually as the result of projection—either the person thinks this is what they’d tell themselves in that situation, or the person was emotionally triggered by the other parent’s loss and is projecting their own emotional baggage. As such, if you think you’re at risk of being triggered by another person’s miscarriage, Cook suggests writing down a list of things that you think you might want to say, walking away from it for a while and then checking it later to see how it sounds. (And remember an objective tone is what you’re aiming for.)
9. “We can’t pick the cards life deals us, only how we play them.”
This one comes off as dismissive and “invalidates the person’s lived experience,” says Cook. Also, there’s little comfort in the idea that we’re all just victims of circumstance with no control over our lives. (File under: “It must have been God’s will.”)
10. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Not to sound like a broken record, but the last thing someone wants to hear in this situation is that they have no control over their lives. Plus, Cook adds, “the use of the word ‘everything’ dilutes the fact that we are talking about the potential start of a human life.” Because this isn’t like the time your friend didn’t land that new job that she wanted… this is your friend grieving the loss of her child.
11. “Maybe you could join the Big Sister/Big Brother program instead of having kids?”
Definitely do not start suggesting ways for a person to be around kids as an alternative to having them; doing so suggests that the person either should not become a parent or will never be able to. It’s just a “slap in the face,” says Cook. You want to comfort, not insult.